Why the internet is giving power back to the consumers
THERE has never been a better time to be poor in this country.
Which is just as well; the economic situation is dire, with millions out of work, masters graduates competing for jobs at McDonald's and energy, food and fuel prices rising monthly.
But, if you take a particular view, there are currently more options available to the 2013 pauper than at any time in history.
Before I start to explain myself, I feel I must qualify my position. As you can see, I do have a job and am paid each month for it. I rent a house with my girlfriend, have a car and, because my hobbies are reading and writing as oppose to flying jets and burning money, live comfortably within my means and save a few quid each month.
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So, no, I'm not poor, not in the Victorian sense and not really in the modern sense. There are a lot of people in much less fortunate circumstances.
But neither am I wealthy and owning my own house is a genuinely distant dream right now, a lot of hard work and saving to get even a massive mortgage.
However, at 29, and having never been rich or well-off, I have learned a few tricks about being smart with money and I honestly feel it has never been easier to get by with little or no cash.
Firstly, the internet. The internet is a huge, invisible stall selling free things every day, forever.
You're out of work and training is expensive. Go on the internet! Thousands of entire books, many with expired copyright, are freely available along with loads of textbooks and study guides. Just spend a few minutes on Google Books or Project Gutenberg. Amazing.
There are essays and blog posts full of information. There are websites dedicated to offering diligently researched and written guides to things, like the Internet Movie Database, and there are massively informative, if occasionally untrustworthy encyclopaedias like Wikipedia.
You can even, at sites like Coursera, take actual legitimate university courses for free. You could reach competent levels of knowledge in any subject you like, giving your job-hunting skills a real, brilliant edge.
But, you could have gone to a library, so what else is new?
Price comparison, that's what. You know the names of these sites – Go Compare, Compare the Market and so on – and they are essential for those on a budget.
I never buy anything of any value without comparing the price in about a million stores, both online and bricks and mortar. Google has its own shopping page, which does just this.
For example, I hunted for Pearl Jam's seminal 1992 grunge masterpiece Ten and found one shop selling it for £10.99 plus postage and another for £3.99 with free shipping. Madness.
The rise of internet shopping and the choice it has enabled in consumers means real shops work harder than ever to retain customers.
Local independent retailers have improved their crafts and prices and bigger chain stores offer bulletproof return policies.
In fact, the internet's influence is, it seems to me, giving the shopping power – long held by the shops themselves – back to the shopper, almost heralding a return to market place haggling for those with the taste.
So, there may never have been a better time to be poor, such is the modern choice and access to information.
The meek may yet inherit, after all.